Safety Leader

NSC Expands Definition of Workplace Impairment

Industry Fighting Back Against Job-Site Drug Use
Published On
Apr 7, 2021

According to a survey released by the National Safety Council (NSC), Itasca, Ill., 90% of employers are concerned not only about legal and illicit substance misuse among their employees, but also about their mental health and any chronic stress they might experience, since they now realize that all of these can impact employees’ “fitness for duty.”

As a result, the NSC is now calling on all employers to consider far more than substance misuse when addressing “workplace impairment,” and the organization encourages employers to include information in their policies and procedures that define “workplace impairment” as anything that could impede one’s ability to function normally or safely as a result of a number of factors—from chemical substances, such as alcohol, opioids or cannabis, to physical factors such as fatigue, as well as experiencing mental distress and social factors such as stress.

NSC noted that, while impairment has been a workplace safety issue for decades, the pandemic has forced a “new era of workplace safety”—one in which employers are grappling with increased substance use and misuse, as well as increased mental health distress, including depression and anxiety, which it says are medical conditions that are frequently interrelated.

“In particular, the pandemic has worsened the country’s opioid crisis, which has been challenging employees for several years,” according to the report.

For example, in the 12-month period ending May 2020, there were 81,000 fatal drug overdoses—the highest number ever recorded in a one-year period.

The NSC also reported that:

  • 52% of respondents reported knowing that impairment is decreasing the safety of their workforces.
  • 77% of respondents view impairment as an important consideration when determining an employee’s fitness for duty.
  • 70% of respondents said they discuss substance impairment during employee onboarding, but only 47% discuss other forms of impairment such as fatigue, mental health and stress. This is despite the fact that NSC has found that tired and fatigued employees have negatively impacted 90% of employers.

“In expanding what it means to be impaired in the workplace, NSC aims to reshape the national narrative and help employers adjust internal policies and programs accordingly,” the NSC said.

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